The New Jose Reyes, At Least On The Field

The Mets’ signing of Jose Reyes last month was a questionable one for a lot of reasons. There were the ones dealing with morality, of choosing talent over a person with a contemptible recent history, and of the meaning of second chances—all covered adroitly here by Bryan Grosnick. It is exactly what a team must address and reckon with when it signs a player just months removed from an alleged gnarly domestic violence incident. There is a reason it goes in the first paragraph of this story and probably every significant one about Reyes going forward.

But the Mets made their choice and while his alleged actions will not be forgotten, there are also the baseball consequences to deal with. Signing Reyes and then plugging him atop the lineup was pretty odd in and of itself. He’s 33, no longer quite the speedsters and posted a .310 on-base percentage last year. The Mets needed major-league worthy players on the roster, yes, but it didn’t mean they had to just give him a starting job. Especially as it came at the cost of Wilmer Flores.

It’s now been about three weeks since Reyes joined the Mets and while the sample size is hardly dispositive, it’s worth looking at what the Mets are getting out of their bargain. He’s played 16 games to this point and that number will stay there for some time after he got hurt earlier this week and is expected to miss a few days—of course that timetable is provided in Mets estimates so actually days missed may vary wildly.

Some of the results have not been surprising for Reyes. He’s continued his plunge in batting average (.239 from .274 last year) and on-base percentage (.310 to .278 now). These are not the hallmarks of an ideal leadoff hitter. The utility of his speed is limited by his ability to, you know, get on base. And the fact that his strikeout rate has rocketed—nearly doubling up to 18.1 percent—is probably not the best of signs either.

But what has been interesting about Reyes in this limited run is that he’s hit for power. This may all, of course, be a small sample size blip and run its course soon enough. Yet it’s also interesting that maybe Reyes has changed some of his tendencies.

He has only posted a slugging percentage as high as his current one, .493, in one other season—he slugged that same number in 2011, when he won the batting title by hitting .337. His isolated power, .254 so far, has never topped .187 (that was 2006). It’s obvious that Reyes is a far different hitter than he was five and 10 years ago and it’s not usual for a player to swap out speed for power as he gets to the downside of his aging curve. But here he is.

Reyes is starkly hitting the ball harder this year, with his average exit velocity jumping from 84.7 mph in 2015 to 87.7 mph this year, which has taken him from fall below average to only below average.

While his line drive has fallen to just 15 percent this year, a 25 percent dip from 2015, his hard-hit and fly ball rate has rocketed up. His average launch angle this year is 14.1 degrees—it was 9.6 degrees last year.

It could all be part of a new approach for Reyes. Perhaps is no longer cut to slash and run and wants to put more emphasis on the ball, believing his equipped to do that more consistently at his point of his career. That swing for the moon emphasis could also explain why his contact rate has fallen significantly and why he’s swinging and missing more than he ever has—more than twice as much as he did the last time he was with the Mets in 2011.

It’s all combined to make him a barely above-average offensive player this year. Which is fine but his presence in the lineup still comes at the cost of Flores (116 wRC+ and .795 OPS) who has still been the better hitter and more valuable bat. And it still hasn’t really solved the questions the Mets needed to answer in the first place—on the field or off it.

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